American gunships terrify the Caribbean islands

jenyan1 jenyan1 at uic.edu
Sun May 13 15:55:09 MDT 2001


American gunships terrify the Caribbean islands

by Darcus Howe
New Statesman
14th May 2001

The military engagement over China, and the
subsequent manoeuvres in Taiwan, have given us some
indication of George W Bush's approach to foreign
policy. But it is ordinary Trinidadians who have had a
direct and frightening taste of it.

Trinidad and Tobago has an army, but, viewed in
relation to modern warfare, it might as well be a troop of
Boy Scouts. It comprises a handful of guns, a helicopter
or two, and a couple of coastguard vessels not fast
enough to capture the speedboats plying cocaine from
South America.

The Americans have had a base on Trinidad's
north-west peninsula, at a place called Chaguaramas,
since the Second World War. Demonstrations and
agitation in the late 1950s saw off the soldiers, whose
presence, it was generally felt, was not compatible with
independence. The base itself, which now has modern
satellite communications, was left behind. From time to
time, a US warship would dock, but more for friendly
diplomatic purposes than anything else. There are few
military links between Trinidad and the United States.
Officers are trained in the UK, which also sells arms to
the country.

Trinidad's army has not always been stable. In 1970,
there was general unrest on the island, including strikes,
demonstrations and an insurrection aimed at the
popular overthrow of the government. I was part of it. A
tate of emergency was called, suspending the rights of
citizens. The prime minister ordered the army to step in.
It refused, and only the intervention of the coastguard,
led by a British officer, saved the day.

Since then, in moments of instability, there has always
been a question mark over the army's loyalty. And
recently, there has indeed been instability. The country
is divided between Indians and Africans and, in nearby
Guyana, racial violence followed the Indian-dominated
party's election victory, dogged by allegations of
electoral corruption. For weeks, there was no
government in Guyana because the president refused
to accept the prime minister's appointments to cabinet.
Foreign investors made it clear that it was not a
situation they were prepared to tolerate. The president
finally relented.

All of this gives rise to deep currents of uncertainty.
Early last year, I made a documentary in the Caribbean
called Trouble in Paradise, and had cause to upset the
Trinidadian regime by referring to the bouts of explosive
violence that characterise day-to-day life. There has
been a huge and steady migration to America and to
England. Such is the scale of recent migration to the US
that the schools have to recruit teachers from other
parts of the Caribbean to maintain some kind of
continuity. Parents from the Caribbean are abandoning
their children by the hundreds in major cities of the
United States.

Now Trinidad has experienced what amounts to a
military invasion. Helicopter gunships; the most modern
in military communications, installed at the
Chaguaramas convention centre; military carriers
transporting troops on manoeuvres; the
commandeering of all rental cars on the island, of
coastguard cutters and the rest - all this has not only
surprised, but terrified the local population. Trinidad has
within its territorial waters the largest deposits of
natural gas in the Americas. International companies,
led by BP Amoco, have invested billions of US dollars,
and there is much more to come. And Bush is a tenant
of the oil companies.

Next door, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, has
declared his anti-imperialism. He is a military man. He
has seen Fidel Castro ten times since he came to power
in 1998, and he has visited China. Chavez has offered
Caribbean countries free oil, in an attempt to establish
strong links along the chain of poverty-stricken islands.
Better link up with me, he appears to be saying, than
prolong a slavish dependence on America.

So you don't need to be a genius to work out the
easons for the American show of force. All the same, it
came as a shock to the entire Caribbean. There was no
discussion in the Trinidadian parliament, no national
statement by the prime minister, Basdeo Panday. The
Americans simply came, manoeuvred and went, Wild
West-style.




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